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A Stress-Less February: Your Guide to a Healthier Heart

Emily McFalls, FNP, WNCCHS McDowell Health Center


February is American Heart Month, so it's a great time to look at how stress affects our hearts. Stress isn't just something that ruins our day; it can actually lead to high blood pressure and other heart risks. But there are ways to fight stress and keep our hearts healthy!


Emily McFalls, FNP

First up, moving our bodies through exercise is a super way to feel better. Activities like walking, biking or swimming can cheer us up because they lower blood pressure and help release feel-good chemicals in our brain. And when we’re breathing harder, the increase in oxygen reduces tension in our muscles – including the heart.


Another helpful tip is to try mindfulness and deep-breathing techniques. This means taking time to be in the moment, paying attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them. It can help calm our minds and lower our stress. Certain exercises like meditation or yoga take this to the next level by adding deep breathing, which is believed to have many health benefits including calming the mind.


Did you know poor quality or quantity of sleep can make you feel more anxious than you would otherwise? Try to get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night to see the biggest difference in your mood. Another tip: try to wind down half an hour before bed so you can reach the deepest levels of sleep, which help with mood regulation and memory.


Having a balanced diet also plays a big part, because it keeps your immune system strong and gives you plenty of energy to deal with stressful events. You probably know that foods with omega-3 fats, like salmon and trout, are especially good for our hearts – but new research also suggests they can help control levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.


Having friends and family around to talk to can also make a big difference. Feeling supported by people we care about can make us feel less alone and less stressed, so reach out to your support network – or make new connections by joining a team or organization. Hugs and other forms of physical touch also releases a hormone called oxytocin, which helps reduce stress.


It shouldn’t be a surprise that making time for leisure helps us feel better. Including a balance of hobbies and personal activities into your schedule is another great way to improve your mood. While you’re at it, schedule in some time for gratitude – because studies show folks who are able to recognize and show what they’re grateful for enjoy better mental health and lower stress.


Keeping our stress in check is not just good for our minds; it's super important for our hearts too. By trying out these tips, we can take better care of both – just in time for American Heart Month.


Call (828) 583-6733 to Make an Appointment with Emily McFalls, FNP, at WNCCHS —McDowell Health Center. Visit wncchs.org/providers to learn more.


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